For many, doing tasks simultaneously allows them to be more productive. However, there are always side effects regardless of how many things you can do at the same time. Today, Kat Nieh covers the five common side effects of multitasking and touches on what she learned about NLP. She notes that multitasking relates to overloading our mental buckets, and when the bucket fills up, it is ideal to take mental breaks. Listen to Kat as she shares these crucial concepts that will help you take good care of your brain.
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[EPISODE 15] – Five Common Side Effects Of Multitasking
I want to talk to you about something we all do. We’ve all been a little misguided about what it is, which leads to this misconception that we all have. Yes, that includes you, too. You’re even doing this exact thing as you’re reading this. Oh, yah. You’re totally multitasking, aren’t you? And what is this misconception? We think that we’re good at it, and some of us even think that we’re masters at it, too.
You’re probably wondering what got me curious to start digging down this rabbit hole. One of my mentors, Dr. Matt James, shared with us during our NLP Master Practitioner Training Course. He found an article in Forbes which shared that multitasking kills your brain cells. Did you also just go “WHAT?! Seriously?” because that’s what I did when I first heard it. I knew I had to dig out this article and share it with you all.
Before we get started, I want to note that this is purely my opinion based on what I’ve discovered and the connections I’ve personally put together. You can make your own determinations as well. As I dove deeper into this rabbit hole, the more curious I got. I got more information than I could fit into one episode, so I broke this topic into a series of them instead.
I am going to cover the five common side effects of multitasking and in the next episode, I will talk about the three unexpected long-term damages of multitasking. You’re starting to hear how serious multitasking is, eh?
Let’s get started with defining what exactly is multitasking. We pretty much know what that is. It’s doing several different individual tasks all within a short amount of time. In actuality, your brain isn’t multitasking at all. Your brain is only capable of working on one task at any given time. It is your brain’s ability to rapidly and frequently switch its attention from one task to another that’s making you feel that you are multitasking at the same time. Even if you’re doing two tasks that are similar, your brain is still considering them as two different tasks.It's important to take mental breaks! It gives your brain the ability to clear your mental buckets. Click To Tweet
All that sounds pretty logical. Now that we have defined what multitasking is, let’s dive deeper into the five side effects of multitasking. Let’s start off with the foundational side effect:
Reduces mental efficiency and performance.
As you switch from one task to another, you’re increasing your cognitive demand. What does that mean? I want to pull in something I’ve learned in NLP. For those who don’t know what that is, that is short for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It has a metaphor for how our brain processes things. It says that our brains have about +/- 7 buckets. As we’re collecting data through our senses, it’s what we see, what we hear, what we’re feeling, what we’re tasting or smelling. All this information is poured into our mental buckets. Once your buckets are full, you can’t process more information.
Since our brains are constantly processing all the sensory information all around us, we only have 3 or 4 buckets available at any given time to focus on what we are consciously doing. If you equate this to multitasking, you are constantly overloading your buckets faster than you can pour out. With too much competing information all at once, your brain’s cognitive demand is severely overtaxed. That means the ability for you to think clearly slowed down. The capability for your brain to think logically is slowed down.
That’s why it’s important to take mental breaks! It gives your brain the ability to dump out stuff from your mental buckets. As workaholics, this is challenging because most of the time we are knee-deep in what we’re doing that we don’t think to step aside and just take a break. We push even harder and harder and try to force out these answers as solutions to what we’re working on.
Multitasking Hinders Creativity
With your buckets are full, it becomes harder to be more creative, because your creative juices thrive when you have more space in your buckets. That’s how when you’re on vacation, on a relaxing walk, in the shower, or even on the toilet, you come up with these brilliant ideas. It’s not in the multitasking busyness that you’re constantly churning in. It’s actually in the breaks where you find these sparks of geniuses.
For the creatives out there and the problem solvers as well, you have to give yourself the space to step away from your project. Go do other things, clear your mind, do something fun and relaxing. Notice how out of the blue these brilliant ideas show up. Remember, your creative juices have to flow to you.
Neuroscientist Earl Miller says that “innovative thinking, after all, comes from extended concentration…When you try to multitask, you typically don’t get far enough down any road to stumble upon something original because you’re constantly switching and backtracking.” It’s within the extended moments of break and within extended moments of focused concentration is when your creativity thrives. Stop wasting your creative juices while you’re multitasking! You’re just dumping most of it down the drain if you are.Each time you multitask, you're training your brain to lose your focus and concentration. Click To Tweet
Multitasking Reduces Focus And Concentration
This is pretty obvious, right? As you’re multitasking, it’s harder to focus on that one thing. Like I mentioned before, once your buckets are full, you don’t have enough space in your buckets to process additional things, too.
Did you know that you’ve been training yourself to multitask? Each time you’re multitasking, you’re training your brain to lose focus and find distractions by providing it higher instant-gratification-inducing rewards.
According to a neuroscientist and New York bestselling author, Daniel Levitin says, “Multitasking creates dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.” So that means instead of focusing on one task and waiting for that reward at the end of that lengthier task, your brain is searching for the next quick dopamine rush instead that it enjoys from switching from one task to another. And over time, this repeated action becomes like a drug and it turns into a cycle.
An easy example is when you’re doing something that requires an extended, lengthier focus, either writing an email or in a meeting, you then have that urge to pick up your phone to look at a message or see what’s going on in social media. That is you training your brain to look for that distraction and for that next dopamine rush, instead of focusing on that lengthier task. It’s those continued choices you make.
Check this out, even more disturbingly, research has discovered that merely sitting next to someone who is multitasking drops your comprehension by 17%! For example, if you’re sitting in a meeting and you suddenly notice someone else is multitasking by looking at their phone, that visual pollution of seeing someone else on their screen and multitasking draws your own focus and attention away. It forces your brain to figure out what it’s looking at and determine “what are they doing? What are they working on instead?” That is totally distracting you! There you go again, losing your focus and your concentration on what you’re doing.
Multitasking Hurts Your Decision-Making Ability
When you have that reduced focus and concentration, it will lead you to make some stupid decisions. That is definitely not a result that we want at all because when we’re multitasking, we want to be more productive, right? We want to make good or the right decisions to continue moving forward on whatever we’re working on.
When you’re multitasking, you’re making thousands of decisions and rapid succession, which leads to decision fatigue. What is decision fatigue? It is a psychological term that refers to the deterioration of the quality of decisions you’re making after making a long series of decisions. It’s like training your muscles when you’re working out. When you keep on training that one muscle after a series of reps and after a period of time, don’t your muscles get tired? Do you feel like you can’t make that perfect full rep?
You’re doing the exact same thing mentally with your decisions. In addition to making bad decisions, according to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, he says that multitasking also leads to impulsive behavior. He says, “One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important.” This reminds me of why Steve Jobs only wears black turtlenecks. It’s because he’s choosing to eliminate the thought of “What should I wear today?” Having one consistent thing grabs, he is saving his mental powers and creative juices on something much more important in his business.
Multitasking Creates Stress and Anxiety
Multitasking creates stress and anxiety, which could cause overwhelm and burnout. Oftentimes, when we’re multitasking, it’s because we feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything we wanted to or that we need to do. We ended up cramming tons of tasks in a shorter period of time. As you continue multitasking, you start feeling this build-up of the frustration of “I don’t have enough time. I have too much to do. I can’t get everything done. This is not getting done right. Why can’t other people help me?” All that continues building up. Slowly, stress creeps in, and then snowballs into overwhelm. And with that extended time of overwhelm, we get into the *dun dun dun* burnout zone. That’s not where we want to be, right? That is exactly what we’re trying to avoid here.
In order to lessen that stress and anxiety in the first place, you have to stop, take things off your plate, create space for you to get things done with more focus and concentration.
Those are the five common side effects of multitasking. If you didn’t think those side effects were serious enough, tune in to the next episode where I cover the three unexpected long-term damages of multitasking.
I want you to take this episode to heart. Notice when you’re multitasking the next time, choose not to. Choose to put those other tasks aside. Choose to focus and concentrate on that one task you’re working on, so you could increase your mental efficiency and performance. Choose to allow all those creative juices to flow through to you as you come up with these amazing creative solutions. Be more singular focus, so you can make better decisions. More importantly, reduce your stress and anxiety level, so you can stay away from overwhelm and avoid burnout.
You got this, my dear workaholics… until next time.
- Inc – Sitting Near a Multitasker Decreases Your Intelligence By 17 Percent
- Stanford – Multitasking works? Not really, Stanford study shows
- Stanford – Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows
- Inc – Sitting Near a Multitasker Decreases Your Intelligence By 17 Percent
- Ladders – 9 Ways Multitasking is Killing Your Brain and Productivity, According to Neuroscientists